Muni Announces Plan to Install TransLink Machines At All Subway Stations

IMG_4599.jpgA demonstration model of new TransLink fare gates. Photo: Michael Rhodes

Muni announced an ambitious plan today to replace all of its fare gates with TransLink-only machines by fall 2010. In coordination with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), which manages the TransLink program regionally, Muni will install a total of 98 new fare gate aisles at its nine Muni Metro stations, as well as up to 40 new TransLink-only ticket vending machines. Extra-wide, ADA-compliant fare gate lanes will also be installed. Muni showed off demonstration models of the new machines at a press conference at Van Ness Station today.

The project will cost $29 million, $11 million of which will come from the federal economic stimulus plan. The Board of Supervisors approved the plan at its meeting on Tuesday. Muni has long planned to replace its aging fare gates, but San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) Executive Director Nat Ford said the stimulus funds were essential to getting it done now.

"We have been working on this project literally for almost a decade to replace these fare gates and had a significant gap in terms of our funding," said Ford. "The $11 million that we received to support this project closed the gap, and we will be rapidly installing the fare gates."

"I think everyone who uses the Muni system is well aware that our existing fare gates and fare machines are well past their useful life. They were installed over thirty years ago."

In place of the transfers that riders now receive at Muni Metro fare gates, riders who do not already have TransLink cards will be able to purchase limited-use paper TransLink cards at the new ticket vending machines. Unlike the current fare boxes, riders will be able to use a variety of mediums to pay for their tickets, including cash, coins, and credit cards. Riders will also be able to purchase regular plastic TransLink cards, like those already in circulation, at the machines.

IMG_4585.jpgNew Muni TransLink ticket vending machines will accept cash, coins, and credit cards. Photo: Michael Rhodes

MTC commissioner Anne Halsted said Muni’s successful TransLink pilot
project made implementing a full TransLink fare gate system possible.
"Thanks to the successful rollout of TransLink on the Muni system over
the last eight months, when the MTA needed to replace its aging fare
gates, it decided all the new fare gates will accept only TransLink, so
we’re all going to be converting in the future," said Halsted. "This is
going to establish Muni as the real leader in this movement."

"I’m a San Francisco resident, and a Muni rider, and a TransLink advocate and customer," said Halsted. "This electronic TransLink fare payment card is a big part the MTC’s strategy for ensuring greater coordination among the 28 Bay Area transit agencies."

Muni currently has about 6,000 daily TransLink users. Of 1,200 Muni TransLink users surveyed during the trial period that begin last December, Halsted said 83 percent said they were satisfied or very satisfied, and 92 percent said they would recommend TransLink to a friend. Ford confirmed that TransLink is now essentially fully operational on Muni buses, streetcars and light rail vehicles.

Cubic Transportation Systems, Inc., a San Diego-based company, assumed the TransLink contract with MTC earlier this summer after purchasing Vix ERG’s Concord, California operations center. BART had encouraged the MTC do get rid of Erg earlier this year, citing the company’s problems in implementing projects similar to TransLink in other regions.

IMG_4634.jpgMTA executive director Nat Ford demonstrates how TransLink ticket vending machines will work. Photo: Michael Rhodes

A full rollout of TransLink in Muni’s light rail stations by fall 2010 is a lofty goal, considering that some kinks are still being ironed out: riders still report frequent occurrences of buses and trains with TransLink readers that are not operational, resulting in lost revenue for Muni. Still, with both BART and Caltrain soft-launching TransLink fare payment earlier this month, it’s beginning to look like a significant component of regional transit coordination may really be coming to fruition, well over a decade after first capturing the imagination of the region’s transit planners.

  • ian

    shiny. i hope this will push more operators to take translink.

    and then i hope we start to combine (at least the rider-facing design of) the transit agencies, so it’s easier for riders to understand.

  • bikerider

    Faregates, of course, serve NO PURPOSE in a POP system. Another $29 million in scarce, discretionary transit funds flushed down the drain.

  • @bikerider they serve a nominal purpose in an understaffed POP system. Then again, locks are usually best to keep honest people from making stupid mistakes, not to keep someone who really wants to get in from getting in.

  • How very nice that MTC and SFMTA continue to look after their very very very special friends at Cubic.

    Can somebody please remind me where to find the carefully justified study that shows that MTC-shilled, Cubic-profiting Translink(tm)(c)(sm)(r) will has even a remote approximation of positive cost-benefit? I’m sure one must exist somewhere — after all it would be a criminal offense to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into the pockets of a favored contractor with not public policy justification.

    I must have overlooked it somehow.

    Clearly the highly professional and spotlessly ethical executive staff and board of a nationally famous Metropolitan Planning Organization will have some carefully justified plan for just why a smart card system, and a smart card system from just this one particular vendor, are the very best possible technical and logistical solution to the problem of collecting and allocating fare revenues, right? Right?

  • jay

    Datasheet of the fare gate for whoever is interested.

    http://www.cubic.com/cts/Publications/DataSheets/Ltr/Universal%20Gate%202000.pdf

  • ZA

    They seem to work well enough for London, so why not us? I’d rather like to thin my wallet down to a single widget for Bay Area transit.

  • bikerider

    In most European countries, one’s wallet contains a single yearly (or monthly, or weekly…) passcard — good for any tram, bus, boat, ferry, or train in the entire metro area.

    Is that thin enough for you?

  • huh

    I have been using translink on muni for many months now, and I can say it is a godsend for those of us who are frequent Muni riders but don’t ride enough to justify fastpasses. Having to carry exact change and worry about that every time you want to get on a bus is agonizing. Not only that, but is automatically credits the transfer discounts between systems (like BART and Muni), which is useful, especially because those crappy transfer machines are often out of service.

  • patrick

    Totally agree with huh & ZA, translink is way more convenient for those who don’t ride enough to get a fastpass. I imagine it will be equally convenient for anybody who needs to ride more than one system. Can’t wait until it’s deployed throughout the Bay Area.

  • Sasha

    I would be a bit leery of this system had I not already experienced similar implementations in New York and Boston. Imagine: no one blocking faregates rummaging through their pockets for change and then counting it. In Boston, there’s also a neat system in place that effectively gives locals a discount: to get a rechargeable card, you need to mail away for it; when buying fares from a machine, you get a disposable paper card with a slightly higher price per fare. As an out of town visitor, this feels okay to me, since locals are subsidizing the system through taxes.
    My only worry about this system is managing the conflict between in and out gates. Right now, all the Translink enable fare gates are also the out gates at MUNI stations. During heavy traffic periods, it can be difficult to negotiate ins and outs in the same gate. Is there a drawback to the NYC system, where faregates are only for entering the system, and exits are generally through one-way full-body turnstiles?

  • bikerider

    Commenters here are making the mistake of confusing Translink and Faregates. Those are two completely separate technologies that have nothing to do with each other.

    Regarding price of FastPass: the fact that even regular users find it too expensive indcates Muni has the completely wrong pricing and business model. Again, to use the example of the European transit systems: they sell Single-ride tickets at (relatively) very high cost so as to encourage as many residents as possible to get a Season pass.

    The goal is to get as many Season Passes as possible into people’s wallets. Once you do that, residents start to use transit for all kinds of discretionary trips that they would not have ordinarily considered. When they go out the door, they figure “hey, I already ‘paid’ for a transit pass, I may as well use it.” This model is extremely successful — the vast majority of ticket revenue in a place like Munich comes from the Season pass.

  • patrick

    excellent point bikerider, too bad muni didn’t use the recent budget issues to implement a system like this, they could have raised the single ride price to $2.50 and left the fastpass at the previous price.

  • Sasha

    @bikerider: I like the model you describe. However, as I understand things, there’s a big difference between Europe and the U.S. in how transit is paid for. In Europe, transit is heavily subsidized by governments, with regular, relatively undisputed funding. Thus, one goal of the transit agency is to get as many people as possible onto transit.
    Here, of course, transit subsidies are hard-fought, irregular, and can’t be counted on from year to year. As gas prices peaked last year and locals began to abandon their cars for MUNI, the trains and buses got packed and uncomfortable. Amid cries for increased service to meet the rising demand, several media pieces pointed out that MUNI actually loses money on each rider. Thus, it wasn’t a question of adding more vehicles or more runs.
    Without crunching the numbers, I fear that the single-ride ticket would have to surpass cable car rates ($5?) to begin to bridge the budget gap and push a critical mass of riders toward the FastPass, and I don’t see $6 MUNI rides as politically feasible, much less economically reasonable for a good chunk of SF residents who can’t afford a FastPass. Perverse as it is, until public transit is seen as a public good and subsidized accordingly, MUNI’s current goal can’t be to add more riders.

  • #11 bikerider – in Munich, my understanding is that all fare revenue just goes to pay for collecting itself. Sure, it also creates some jobs, and keeps people from choosing to use the system, those who normally drive/cycle/work at home.

  • bikerider

    “In Munich, my understanding is that all fare revenue just goes to pay for collecting itself.”

    I don’t know how anyone could come to that conclusion. Munich pioneered the concept of Systemwide POP. First thing to go was faregates — and anything else that added cost to the process of fare collection. The farebox recovery of MVV (the “Verkehrsverbund” of Munich) is >80%.

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